The problem with “natural” childbirth
I had a colleague ask me a while back if I had delivered my son naturally. I responded, “What do you mean by ‘naturally’?” You see, I’ve heard this term thrown around to mean lots of different things to different people. To some it means a vaginal delivery where no pain medication was used. For others, a vaginal delivery where IV pain medication was given (but not an epidural) still counts. And for still others, naturally means at home in a tub, with no doctors around.
Her answer? Well, I can’t remember. But that’s not the point.
I know that whenever a pregnant patient uses that term and I clarify what she means (which for many is a vaginal delivery, sans any pain medications), I tend to replace it with the term “unmedicated.” This may seem like a small, annoying splitting-of-hairs difference to you, but I’ll explain why I prefer it—and why I think it more accurately reflects what we mean.
You see, many women who plan on a low-intervention, epidural-free birth achieve just that. However, for those who end up with an epidural, or the need for Pitocin, or have to deliver via Cesarean section—many of them mourn the loss of what they imagined. I have seen couples erupt into huge arguments when a woman wants to have some IV pain medication, only to have her husband tell her it wasn’t the way they planned her labor and that she could be “stronger than that.” That those medications weren’t “natural.”
You may think it’s no big deal if, in the end, they have a healthy baby (and we have a healthy mom) and they should just get over how their little one arrived, but that’s a lot easier said than done. It also marginalizes how a woman feels about a very important day in her life, one that she had looked forward to for a long time.
And then someone asks her if she had a “natural” delivery, and she reads into it: You think I am unnatural because I got that epidural. You think I gave in and had a C-section too easily. You think I was probably duped into my C-section.
I’ve seen lots and lots of women who have echoed those exact words at their postpartum visits. They know that most people don’t ever intend to insinuate anything negative by using the term “natural,” but they readily admit to disliking that reference when an unmedicated delivery didn’t happen for them.
In this era of parenting trends, labels can really affect our personal view as a mother. Are you enough of an attachment parent? Are you enough of a free-range parent? Are you natural enough? The persona starts even before the baby arrives, with whether or not his or her mother had an epidural.
So in the end, I’ll tell a mom, “Let’s call it an unmedicated delivery, and if you end up birthing something the size of a watermelon out of your vagina—epidural or not—you’re still pretty natural to me.”